BASSETERRE - University of the West Indies professor, Verene Shepherd, Director at the Centre for Reparation Research in Jamaica said that despite the rightness of the Caribbean's claim for reparation, European nations have not lived up to their responsibilities; and they have ignored the invitation issued to them by Heads of Government of CARICOM for a meeting to discuss the demand.
"New letters are now being drafted to repeat the invitation, using, it is to be hoped, stronger language than in the first round. Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands need to live up to their responsibilities; and Caribbean people at home and abroad need to place their support firmly behind their governments in this struggle because as Desmond Tutu said: 'If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.' An injustice without a remedy is abhorrent to the spirit of justice.
"We have to keep pressing our demands, because not to do so is to betray our ancestors – all those men and women and young people whose resistance to systems of terror and domination helped to cement our freedom. Let us stand up for their rights this year and bring honour to the memory of rebel ancestors like your own Betto Douglas (St. Kitts); Charlotte and Angelique of Dominica; Susanna, Amba, Phati, Lucretia of Guyana; Nanny, Mountain Lucy; Mary Ann Reid; Ann James, Eliza and Jane Whittingham and Whaunica of Jamaica and all those honoured by Haiti every January 2 on Ancestors' Day, including Cecile Fatiman and Marie-Jeanne Lamartiniére," said Shepherd, the keynote speaker at the 18th annual New Year's Gala hosted by the Rt. Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas, Leader of the Opposition and National Political Leader of the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party.
She told nearly 700 patrons including investors, businessmen, diplomats, residents and visiting nationals that she is also disappointed to see the state of human rights worldwide with the abuses, the disrespect and the lack of protection for human rights.
"Racial discrimination against ethnic minorities is an issue with which some persons have to deal on a daily basis, especially Africans and people of African descent, Indigenous Peoples and the Roma. This includes a rise in hate speech in some countries, and with advances in technology and the internet, also an increase in cybercrime, targeting these ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups," said Shepherd.
"Many of us in this room have experienced some form of racial or ethnic discrimination, whether in our villages in which we grew up, or at school, or at University or after we migrated to other countries. For those who travel, check in counters, security check points, immigration and customs can be a nightmare; for travelling while black appears to be a crime for some – like staying in a hotel and calling your mom on the 'phone while black," she told the audience at the St. Kitts Marriott Resort on Friday.
Shepherd, who is also a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said that as result of her own experiences "I am impatient of even the slightest whiff of injustice; and I work on several levels to ensure that I support the United Nations' campaign that we stand up for the rights of those who have and continue to suffer from this scourge on our global landscape. It is also all about us – our rights."
"Now, every new phenomenon of abuse of human rights or of discrimination requires a response via a shift in attitude, a new policy or strategy from States Parties. Ignoring our responsibility to eliminate racial discrimination, protect the dignity and enforce the inalienable rights of the human person, only perpetuates the injustices, as they are compounded and worsened, rather than addressed," said Shepherd who opined that the United Nations has provided an opportunity to deal with racism against people of African descent affected by the legacies of slavery and colonialism through the International Decade for People of African Descent, 2015-2024, proclaimed under General Assembly Resolution 68/237 on Human Rights Day 2014.
"Yes; a whole Decade to focus on us!! In proclaiming the Decade under the theme Recognition, Justice, Development, the UN cited the need to strengthen national, regional and international cooperation in relation to the full enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights by people of African descent, and their full and equal participation in all aspects of society. Additionally, as a result of that proclamation, the international community is recognizing that people of African descent represent a distinct and vulnerable group who are very often marginalized and whose human rights must therefore be promoted and protected. The Programme of Activities, among other initiatives, urges complicit States to take steps to acknowledge "the untold suffering and evils inflicted on millions of men, women and children as a result of the transatlantic trade in enchained bodies, colonialism, apartheid, genocide and past tragedies," Shepherd said.
She noted that some States have taken the initiative to apologize and have paid reparation, where appropriate, for grave and massive violations committed," but calls on "those that have not yet expressed remorse or presented apologies to find some way to contribute to the restoration of the dignity of victims for "grave and massive violations committed."
"It must be our New Year's Resolution to use the opportunity of this Decade for people of African Descent to seek justice for our ancestors and stand up for theirs; and our rights this year – if we have so far remained aloof from the reparation movement. The under is all about us. The Decade is all about us and Reparation is all about us an others," said Shepherd.
She said CARICOM's intervention has been hailed around the world as a bold, political step, and has reportedly energized flagging movements in North America, Latin America and Europe.
She said when Professor Sir Hilary Beckles made his pitch to the Heads of Government of CARICOM at their meeting on July 2013, impressing upon them the necessity of placing their support behind the movement and establishing processes and structures to do so, the groundwork had already been laid.
"A convincing aspect of that presentation, however, was the link made between the under-development of the Region, continuing post-colonial harm and vulnerabilities to global financial instabilities experienced by the Caribbean as a result of the stifling strictures of World Bank, IMF and other international agencies, the burden of debt repayment and the failure of former colonial powers to leave a region they had exploited for centuries, in a position to achieve a sustainable development path. Reparation framed within the discourse of development, rather than a one-time financial settlement, was appealing," said Shepherd.
She said there is need to admit that close years after independence from colonial powers, the people of the Caribbean are still struggling to achieve true political and economic independence and sustainable development, end poverty and make the region less vulnerable to the ravages of natural and man-made disasters and the impact of climate change and centuries old environmental degradation.
"While a multiplicity of strategies has been pursued by the Caribbean in its efforts to overcome socio-economic, environmental and political challenges, especially after gaining independence from Western European Powers, as those powers left the region un- and under-developed after having used our resources, with indigenous and forcefully imported labour, to ensure its own development, reparation as part of decolonial justice for such under-development was been placed on the table," noted Shepherd.
She disclosed that CARICOM Heads have also accepted a Ten Point Action Plan for Reparatory Justice, developed by the CRC and honed by the CRR, that outlines the strategy to be pursued.
The Ten Point Action Plan recognizes the special role and status of European governments who were the legal bodies that instituted the framework for developing and sustaining slavery and the trade in Africans, recognized as crimes against humanity, and served as the primary agencies through which slavery-based enrichment took place, and as national custodians of criminally accumulated wealth. It is no secret that part of this wealth came from the compensation money that colonial powers paid to the enslavers while leaving nothing on which the freed people could build a future. In exchange for the recognition of Haiti's independence, France extracted what in 2004 was calculated by then President Aristide as USD$21B; and Britain paid £20M in cash (almost £17B in today's money) – via a loan paid off only in 2015 - to 46,000 enslavers.
According to Professor Beckles, another £27M in extended free labour was granted under the scam called The Apprenticeship System.
"St. Kitts' planters received 2% of the £20M or the modern equivalent of £218M and Nevis 1% or the modern equivalent of £111M - and you should ask back for that money plus interest! Remember Jourdan's model!!
Photo: Professor Verene Shepherd delivering her address at the Gala